Stats Analysis

From Headingley 1948 to Mount Maunganui 2022: travelling through time to witness the best matches

The second part of the fantasy travelogue revisits iconic matches in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and England

Brian Lara drives on his way to an unbeaten 153, West Indies v Australia, 3rd Test, Barbados, 5th day, March 30, 1999

Where were you when Brian Lara was laying into Australia's attack in Bridgetown in 1999?  •  Ben Radford/Getty Images

This is the second leg of a fantastic journey that I have undertaken circumnavigating the world through a combination of fantasy, nostalgia, history, and anecdotes, all rolled into one, using two imaginary machines, a Time Machine called TMACE (Time Machine for Ananth's Cricket Extravaganza) and a medium-sized G800 plane. In the first leg, I started my journey in England, travelled through the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and reached Australia, ending in Adelaide, and spent the past month there and in Melbourne. The year is now 2023.
In the return leg, I will go east to New Zealand, then westward to Africa, West Indies and end in England. I will include Test and ODI matches in this exciting time and space-travel odyssey. The readers should be aware that not all matches they expect will be covered. The purpose is a wide and deep coverage.
It so happens that the next Test we want to watch is fortunately at the MCG. However, we have to set the dial in the TMACE to 1977. The knowledgeable reader would have guessed the match: the Centenary Test. A chance to revisit the place where everything started exactly a hundred years ago. England decide to insert Australia and reap rich rewards immediately. There is no landmark hundred this time around. A top score of 40 means that Australia are dismissed just after tea for 138. England fare no better and concede a lead of 43, with Dennis Lillee being just about unplayable.
Unlike what happened in 1877, this time the two first innings are low scores and the recovery starts at the midpoint. Helped by a magnificent hundred by Rod Marsh, and with everyone contributing, Australia set England a formidable target of 463. However, they get a huge fright with the terrific innings of Derek Randall, who scores 174 top-drawer runs. At 279 for 2, England look likely to reverse the result of the inaugural Test. However, Dennis Amiss and Randall fall soon and England reach a substantial but ultimately insufficient 417 to lose by 45 runs. It is difficult to determine the forces that are at work since the margin is the same as it was 100 years back.
The next Test we want to watch is also at the MCG and we have to move forward just two years. Australia send Pakistan in and dismiss them before end of the first day for a sub-par 196. The powerful bowling attack of Pakistan manages to secure a lead of 28 against this paltry total. Then they bat purposefully, helped by an attractive hundred by Majid Khan, and declare at 353 for 9. Australia start well and, aided by a patient hundred by Allan Border and 84 by Kim Hughes, reach 305 for 3. Then Sarfraz Nawaz produces one of the greatest spells of fast bowling and captures the next seven wickets for one run in 33 balls. He finishes with 9 for 86 and Pakistan emerge winners by 71 runs. Sarfraz bowls over 35 eight-ball overs in his spell.
We have to direct TMACE forward by 15 years and the plane eastwards to Sydney. South Africa, choosing to bat first, are mesmerised by Shane Warne and held to a low and seemingly inadequate 169. Warne is unplayable and finishes with 7 for 56. Australia take a substantial 120-plus lead in the first innings, backed by Michael Slater's uncharacteristic but invaluable 92. The match seems dead and buried when Warne weaves his magic again and Australia are left with a simple task of scoring 117. A walk in the park, it seems, but we haven't factored in an all-time great bowling spell by Fanie de Villiers, who takes 6 for 43, including the top four wickets. From 51 for 1, Australia go down to 75 for 8. Then Damien Martyn and Craig McDermott add 35 runs, but two wickets are lost for a single run. South Africa win by a mere five runs.
We move our Time Machine forward by 28 years and travel to the lovely ground at Mount Maunganui. New Zealand are the current World Test champions and a weakened Bangladesh team, without Shakib Al Hasan, is expected to be easy prey for the marauding Black Caps. A Devon Conway hundred helps the home team to reach a competitive total of 328. However, with every batter contributing, Bangladesh secure a good-as-gold lead of 130. New Zealand wipe out this lead just two wickets down and look on course to set a tough target. Then Ebadot Hossain, with a hitherto undistinguished career of 11 wickets in ten Tests, destroys the strong New Zealand batting line-up for just 33 runs more. Five of the New Zealand batters fail to open their account. Bangladesh make light of their sub-50 target and secure, inarguably, their best ever win.
We now change format, move back seven years and north-west to Auckland. The scene is the men's ODI World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. It is an important league match between the strong co-hosts. Bragging rights and final positions on the table are at stake. Australia bat first and are dismissed for 151, with Brad Haddin top-scoring with 43. An easy home win is on the cards. New Zealand are sitting comfortably at 78 for 1, thanks to a 24-ball fifty by the captain, Brendon McCullum. But Mitchell Starc takes 6 for 28 and New Zealand keep losing wickets regularly. Even then, at 139 for 5, it looks comfortable for New Zealand. Then they slide to 146 for 9. But Kane Williamson is still there and he guides New Zealand to a one-wicket win. A magnificent match, indeed.
We need to return to the Test format, and go 35 years back to 1980. This time we move from the lovely Auckland in the North Island to the equally lovely Dunedin in the South Island. A strong West Indies, led by Clive Lloyd, are the favourites in view of their bowling strength, even though Viv Richards is missing. West Indies bat first but collapse just after tea for a low 140, with Richard Hadlee bowling immaculately. New Zealand take a 100-plus run lead, despite being 168 for 7. Hadlee scores a quickfire 51.
West Indies, in their second innings, are held together by a slow but sure knock by Desmond Haynes. His 105 helps them reach 212 and set up a paltry target of just over 100, which is gettable but not a walk in the park because of the bowling quality. New Zealand lose wickets regularly and are never ahead of the low target. At 73 for 8, it looks like curtains for the home team. Lance Cairns and Gary Troup add 27 priceless runs but the fall of the ninth wicket at 100 sets the cat among the pigeons again. Troup and Stephen Boock take their time and score the four singles needed after a pulsating chase. The match saw only 705 runs scored for 39 wickets. Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner were magnificent and needed a few more runs. Hadlee's 11 wickets and priceless knocks of 51 and 17 ranks among the greatest all-round performances ever.
We have now finished the New Zealand leg and have to move westward to South Africa in 2019. In Durban, South African are surprisingly at sea against the unfancied Sri Lanka quicks Vishwa Fernando and Kasun Rajitha. They are dismissed just after tea for 235. Sri Lanka cannot handle the potent home attack of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier. They get dismissed for a sub-200 score and concede a lead of 44 runs.
South Africa bat competently and set Sri Lanka a huge target of 304. The visitors lose wickets steadily and are 52 for 3 when Kusal Perera walks in. He plays, without any doubt whatsoever, the greatest innings ever in Test cricket. His unbeaten 153 includes a stand of 96 for the sixth wicket and 78 for the last wicket, with Vishwa Fernando holding out for 27 balls. Perera's knock upstaged Lara's 153 not out in Barbados, Botham's 149 not out and Gooch's 154, both at Headingley, to the top of the greatest innings table. We are indeed privileged to watch the innings. Just look at the bowling attack Perera faced. This win by Sri Lanka is in top three greatest away wins ever - and we have been fortunate to view all three wins on this journey. (The other two were the victories by Afghanistan and Bangladesh.)
We change format and move north-west to the Wanderers, Johannesburg in 2006, at which time the highest ODI total was 398 by Sri Lanka. Led by Ricky Ponting, and well supported by Michael Hussey and Adam Gilchrist, Australia smash this record by over 30 runs to reach the commanding score of 434 for 4. In hindsight, the two runs they scored off the last three balls hurt them badly. South Africa start the chase believing that they are going to win - and they do win. Despite the early loss of Boeta Dippenaar, they race to 190 for 1 in 22 overs when Graeme Smith falls. Then Herschelle Gibbs continues to score quickly but the scoring rate falls off and they lose wickets regularly. Gibbs falls at 299, after scoring 175. At 433 for 9, things look shaky but Mark Boucher, who had held the latter part of the innings together, scores the winning hit off the penultimate ball. South Africa not only essay a famous win by one wicket, they smash the innings total record, which was only set earlier that day.
This time, a long move back of 56 years, but a shorter journey down south to Durban. The post-Bradman Australians have taken a 2-0 lead in the five-match series. Eric Rowan anchors the innings and leads South Africa to 311. Then Hugh Tayfield (7 for 23) and Tufty Mann (3 for 31) spin Australia out for a miserable 75. Those were the days of follow-ons and one is not sure why Dudley Nourse did not enforce that.
South Africa bat again and Ian Johnson and Bill Johnston are unplayable on what looked like a crumbling wicket. South Africa are dismissed for 99, but still the target is a huge 336 - seemingly impossible against Tayfield and company. Australia slump to 95 for 4, however, Neil Harvey anchors the chase with a top-quality unbeaten 151. Two successive century stands with Sam Loxton and Colin McCool take them to a famous win. Tayfield and Mann bowl 100 overs for the five wickets, on a helpful pitch. The scoreline is a most peculiar one: 311, 75, 99, and 336 for 5. Sixty-one years later, the scoreline in Cape Town is remarkably similar: 284, 96, 47, and 236 for 2.
It is time to say goodbye to picturesque South Africa and move on to our lone Test in Zimbabwe. In 2003 in Harare against West Indies, Zimbabwe pile up a huge total of 507, thanks to a late-order hundred by Heath Streak, 91 by Andy Blignaut and a 168-run stand for the eighth wicket. West Indies finish over 170 short and Zimbabwe consolidate their position with 200 for 7, setting a tough target of 373. West Indies keep losing wickets and are staring at certain defeat at a score of 204 for 9, with nearly an hour to go. However, with Ridley Jacobs rock-like at one end, and Fidel Edwards defending for 33 balls, West Indies save the Test. They stay at their respective ends and bat out 12 overs. A magnificent pulsating draw to round off our African sojourn.
We need to move back only by six years but travel over 10,000 km to Bridgetown, Barbados. Aided by a typically obdurate hundred by Shivnarine Chanderpaul, West Indies raise a competitive first-innings score of 298, but Sachin Tendulkar, with 92 and Rahul Dravid, with 78, help India take a first-innings lead of 21.
In their second outing, West Indies fail miserably to the seemingly innocuous pace bowling of Abey Kuruvilla and Venkatesh Prasad and can only compile 140 - this too through a last-wicket partnership of 33. It is not known at that time how valuable this partnership is. India are set a simple task of scoring 120 for a famous win. However, the strong Indian batting is no match for the express pace of Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose. VVS Laxman, with 19 runs, is the only batter to reach double figures. India can only score 81.
How can we be in Bridgetown and not move on to 1999. Here is a chance for me, who saw, on television, every ball of that all-time-classic unbeaten 153 by Brian Lara, to revisit the innings. The strong Australians have been kept at bay with a series scoreline of 1-1. Australia score 490 and West Indies fall behind by over 150 runs. Then Courtney Walsh, with help from his fellow speedsters, runs through Australia for 146.
However, the target of 308 is quite a formidable one. And after a decent opening stand of 72, West Indies lose five wickets for 33 more runs and are looking down the barrel at 109 for 5. Lara and Jimmy Adams add 133 for the sixth wicket and an unlikely win begins to look likely. However, three wickets are lost in a trice to Glenn McGrath and the abyss beckons at 248 for 8. Ambrose is immovable at the crease and helps add 54 for the ninth wicket. Lara continues serenely past his 100. Ambrose gets out at 302 and Walsh somehow hangs on for five balls. Lara scores the winning boundary, which takes him past 150.
As far as I am concerned, this is the greatest Test innings ever played.
Now we have to travel back in time to the swinging '60s, when Garry Sobers was king. In Kingston, a typical dogged hundred by Colin Cowdrey takes England to an above-par total of 376. West Indies bat miserably and are blown off the pitch by John Snow (7 for 49). England enforce the follow-on and this time around, West Indies bat very well and a beautiful hundred by Sobers keeps the middle of innings together.
West Indies start day five day at 258 for 5. Sobers makes a token declaration mid-afternoon and England have around 40 overs to score 159. A walk in the park today, but back then you could have expected England to close off the match around 85 for 2. What happened instead is amazing. In the first nine overs, England slid to 19 for 4. The score then became 38 for 5, 51 for 6, and 61 for 7. Basil D'Oliveira saves the day for England and they finish on 68 for 8. The spin of Sobers and Lance Gibbs almost wins the match for West Indies.
In an amazing similarity, the scoreline of a 1964-65 Mumbai Test between India and New Zealand reads: "New Zealand 297, India 88 and (fo) 463 for 5, New Zealand 80 for 8".
We are back in England for the last leg of our odyssey, landing in Headingley in 1948. This is a moment in history - the swan song of the greatest batter of all times, the incomparable Don Bradman. Australia have swamped England in the first three Tests and are leading 2-0. But England seem to have the better of exchanges here. A first-innings total of nearly 500 gives them a lead of 38.
England bat consistently in the second innings, bolstered by four top-order fifties, and set an almost insurmountable 400-plus target for Australia, which had never been successfully chased before, that too in under a day. After the early loss of Lindsay Hassett, Arthur Morris and Bradman add 301 for the second wicket and then Bradman takes them home with very little time to spare. No one is aware that these are the last runs that Bradman will score in Test cricket. He achieved this in his 40th year. A truly great match-winning innings, making light of a tough challenge. His batting average as the teams moved to The Oval was 101.39.
We now jump 71 years ahead to Lord's. The occasion is the 2019 World Cup final. New Zealand bat first and put up what could be perceived at best as a semi-competitive total: 241 for 8 should not really be that much of a challenge for the batting might of England. England also start poorly and at 86 for 4 are in trouble. However, Ben Stokes comes in and plays a free-scoring innings. With Jos Buttler, he take the score to 196, when there is a mini-collapse of sorts. They are 227 for 8 but Stokes is still there. The score moves past 240, thanks to a deflected four (one could say, the "bat of God", paraphrasing the Maradonna "hand of God"). England are all out at the same total. The Super Over also does not break the deadlock. A prudent decision would have been to declare the two deserving teams as joint winners. But a patently unfair rule, granted that it was in place and known to all, of boundaries scored means that the trophy goes to England. A neutral like me has to feel that the whole thing is unfair. However, there is no denying that I have seen one of the greatest ODI matches of all time.
For the final match of this odyssey, we have to return to Headingley in 1981. Ian Botham, the great allrounder that he is, has not clicked as a captain and England have re-instated captain extraordinaire Mike Brearley. Australia post a potentially match-winning 401 in their first innings - a John Dyson hundred being the foundation of this. The Australian pace trio of Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman, and Geoff Lawson is deadly and England manage only 174 - a Botham fifty being the only consolation. We are still 20 years away from 2001, and Australia enforce the follow-on.
They lose quick wickets and Botham walks in at 105 for 5. Soon the score slides to 135 for 7 - England needing nearly 100 to avoid an innings defeat. We check the odds being offered on an England win: 500-1 against, it seems. Graham Dilley walks in and we have no idea what Botham tells him. Dilley scores quickly, then Chris Old scores quickly, while Botham is motoring along at a run a ball. The net result is that 40 overs later, England are all out for 356, Botham essaying an all-time classic of 149 not out in 148 balls. The target is 130 - seemingly a cakewalk for the strong Australian batting line-up, but the large-hearted Bob Willis produces one of the greatest fourth-innings bowling spells of all time. His 8 for 43 takes Australia out for 111 - arguably, the most amazing comeback win of all time. I have ended up watching an innings in the all-time top five, a similar bowling performance, and a match that is in the top five. It is a great end to our journey.
We have finished the long, tiring, but exhilarating journey, have come to London and returned the two machines. I return to the hotel and there is a message waiting for me. The sponsors have intimated that they do not need the two machines until the end of the month and these are under my disposal for the next fortnight. I start thinking I can do one more journey. There is time enough to do any trip. What do I do? Do I go north to Trent Bridge or Edgbaston or across to The Oval, or should I travel to Calcutta or the MCG? Do I travel back to 2006, 2005, 1971, 2001 or 1961?
I think hard and suddenly comes a flash. How can I miss viewing, inarguably, the most important ODI innings that has ever been played in Indian cricket history. An innings that has no record. Not a single stroke is available for us to view. Yes, your guess is correct. I want to go to the quaint little town of Tunbridge Wells, just 50 km away, after moving back to 1983, for one last use of our beloved TMACE. I am not sure whether there are even 1000 spectators there. But it does not matter.
India choose to bat first with a comfortable win in their sights. But the rudest of awakenings awaits. Peter Rawson and Kevin Curran are unplayable and soon India are floundering at 9 for 4. Kapil Dev, the captain, joins them and now the score is 17 for 5. Visions of a late-afternoon trip back to London are raised. Kapil resurrects the innings, ball by ball, with magnificent fighting stands for each of the next four wickets. His 175 is the greatest ODI innings played by an Indian and arguably the greatest ever. The next highest score is 24 but the final score is 266 for 8.
Zimbabwe bat competently and Curran scores a lovely 73. But India win by 31 runs with Kapil fittingly claiming the last wicket. We have seen one of the greatest recoveries of all time in ODI history and it is certain that this win makes India realise that they could go on to lift the World Cup a week later, which they do.
I return the two machines, this time for good. With a feeling of having conquered the world, both literally and figuratively, I ruminate on our long journey.
- We have watched 32 matches spread across 131 days
- Visited 27 grounds across 12 countries
- Watched three Tests at the MCG
- Travelled over 68,000 km
- We have seen Australia win five matches and England, four. Watched India, South Africa, Pakistan and West Indies win three matches each. And seen the other teams win at least one each
- We have watched four exhilarating draws and ties
- We have been able to squeeze in five memorable ODI matches
- The bonuses have been the match-winning performances by Bradman, Lara, Kapil Dev, Perera, Sarfraz Nawaz, de Villiers, Jessop, Botham, Rashid Khan etc
What more does one need? This is certainly the opportunity of a lifetime.
I controlled the entire odyssey through an excel-based storyboard, which can be downloaded here.
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Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems